My annual trip this year was quick and almost without tourism, meant to deal with family matters and the possible purchase of land. But it is impossible not to talk to the people—not to feel their feelings about the country and the world, the economy and politics, violence and crime, poverty and injustice, corruption and impunity, and immigration and tourism: the day-to-day. Then there’s the ever-turbulent bureaucracy and the uncertainty that comes when a problem arises with services like electricity, gas, water, telephone, internet, garbage and so on.
At the same time, Mexico is advancing along with the rest of the world. There are diverse and enriching artistic and technological advances and regressions; publications of all kinds on paper, the internet and social media; and opinions and editorials in the press and on radio and television. And, believe it or not, there is much public interest in owning dogs.
Yes, dogs. This change in attitude apparently stems from the unprecedented success of one Mexican living in the United States who has taught people via television how to treat their dogs: César Millán, who, after becoming a canine celebrity in the U.S., became a source of national pride in Mexico. Never have I seen so many people walking their dogs, nor such a boom in food sales, collars, leashes and veterinary services.
But back to my purposes. When I visited the piece of land I was considering buying in what once was a picturesque village far from the big city but now about to be devoured by it, I realized anew that any development, even informal, can eliminate all vestiges of a site’s original nature and charm in the name of urban progress. It happens at the outset, with the clearing of trees or bushes that leaves behind a desert-like and dusty badland. I don’t get it. I would prefer a piece of land with at least a couple of small trees, but I was told that, when I took possession of the property, I could put in the plants and trees of my choice.
Services in Mexico are often also somewhat contradictory. You can get your internet, telephone and television from the same company, as in the United States, but as soon as a problem arises, such as a supplier error, things can get complicated. A billing error led to a triple service cut and took almost three weeks and several visits to that company’s office. Another time, after an internet problem, the responsible company claimed that its technician had visited and solved it, when in fact no one had come and no one had solved it. Someone finally arrived and fixed the issue, but the reason for the confusion was never clear.
In Mexico it is possible to enjoy the extensive use of Netflix and Amazon Prime, though not through the purchase and use of those services with a device like Roku or Apple TV. Instead, a pirate provider makes the connection without the knowledge of those corporations. You also pay less to see more, and the profit goes to someone who steals the signal and sells it clandestinely. Technological piracy of this sort is both widespread and big business. It is common to see applications and computer programs copied without the permission of the producers, and the same goes for music, books, clothes, videos and many other products. The irony is that without this theft and resulting sale at very low prices, many people would not have access to these goods.
One of my sisters retired last October. All she had to do was present some papers at the designated office and start collecting her pension. She calculated that, even with delays, she would start the new year living as a retiree. Yet every time she went to the office—and it was countless times—the staffers surprised her with a new requirement or the bad news of a missing document. They even rejected her birth certificate, saying that part of her certified copy was illegible. She made countless trips to said office because of this problem, until someone there finally accepted that the illegibility was in the original certificate, and was not my sister’s fault, and admitted the document; however, they charged an extra 1,000 pesos—equivalent to about $50—for that service. (For perspective, the Mexican minimum wage is about $8 a day.) It now seems that she will start receiving her pension about seven months after her retirement.
On the political front, the euphoria accompanying the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president and his promised changes is still alive. Obrador enjoys an enviable popularity of almost 80 percent, although his discourse is at times contradictory. Almost five months after the beginning of his administration, he is facing situations that reveal that his changes are not easy to execute; things do not change just because someone says they are going to. And despite his strong media and congressional control, his critics—especially those intellectuals with access to the press, radio and television—forgive him very little. Hopefully he will be able to make his promised changes before the people become too impatient.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher and native of Puebla, Mexico with decades-old ties to the Light. The Spanish language version of this column is available at ptreyeslight.com.